Lara's Reviews > The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
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's review
Aug 13, 2010

really liked it
Read in June, 2011

I have mixed feelings about this book. While the story had a lot of potential, and the author has a lovely way of using the English language, in many ways it just seemed to fall flat.

The first issue for me was the non-use of quotation marks to indicate dialogue. I really had a difficult time following the conversation at first, but I did get used to it. And I must say that, in the end, I realized that perhaps the choice to omit them contributed to the dreamlike, stream-of-consciousy feel of the book. And it also helped to indicate a disconnectedness, which is just how the narrator felt. So, in the end, the quotation mark thing felt right, even though I had a hard time getting to that point.

The second issue was the "Joseph" part of the book. I never fully felt like I knew who Joseph was and what he was trying to accomplish. I felt very unfulfilled at the end of the book that we never really get a good explanation for his actions, nor his ability to disappear. But then, I realized that this is exactly how the people in Joseph's life felt, too. They never could understand him, he was always distant, secretive. And the disappearances were never really explained to anyone, not even Rose, so I guess we readers have to be satisfied with what we get.

So, when I realized that this story is less about Rose's ability to taste emotions, or Joseph's strange disappearances, but more about the reasons we don't relate to each other as human beings, I understood the writing choices and was able to enjoy the book. Every character had some strange way of hiding from the world and not really participating in life and relationships. Rose's unique gift of tasting emotions--of being truly empathetic--was too much for her, and so she lived on processed food whenever she could. Until Joseph disappeared, and then she began to embrace real food and the emotions contained within. Joseph disappeared. Mom had an affair. Dad threw himself into work and wasn't really present at home. (Also, the hospital thing...kind of weird, but I understand the non-explanation). Grandma never visited, but gradually sent her whole life to her grandchildren via USPS. George seemed to be the only person who could relate with people, who wasn't hiding from something. I loved George. I even cried for Rose during George's wedding.

Great book, if you can get past the unconventional approach and see the deeper meaning.

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